Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Explore experiences and outcomes of the family justice system

Apply for funding to better our understanding of children and families’ experiences and outcomes of the family justice system.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding.

This is a collaboration with Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) and the Ministry of Justice, analysing the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Data First family court data.

We therefore require demonstrable experience of working with large datasets.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £145,000. ADR UK will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Your funding can last up to 15 months.

Who can apply

Proposals are welcome from individual researchers from eligible research organisations. This includes early career researchers, for whom a mentor will be mandatory.

Check if you are eligible to apply for research and innovation funding.

Read ESRC’s research funding guide.

Researchers on fixed term contracts will be eligible to apply if their institutions are willing to extend their contracts to cover the period of the fellowship.

We will be looking for demonstrable experience of working with large datasets coupled with a willingness to engage with other researchers across the Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) partnership as well as policymakers.

Experience of Ministry of Justice or Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) data is not essential.

You will also need to become an accredited researcher of the Office for National Statistics Secure Research Service (ONS SRS) or have completed one of the safe researcher trainings.

Read the safe researcher training list.

Successful applicants will need to have their project approved by the data owners, through Secure Anonymised Information Linkage Databank’s information governance review process and through the UK statistics authority’s research accreditation panel.

Joint applications are not permitted for this opportunity. However, applications can still include mentorship and research assistance where necessary. You should be the one to use and lead on the analysis of the dataset.

Letters of support from other organisations, both academic and non-academic, are also welcomed, as we are keen to ensure that research is relevant and well-received.

What we're looking for


We are looking for fellowship proposals that meet the following three objectives:

  • useful research: proposals that will act as ‘pathfinders’ for conducting research and deriving insights from the datasets, which showcase the potential for policy impact and public benefit
  • useful data: to develop the data as a useful research resource for future users
  • useful engagement: to foster opportunities between academia, government, the third sector and the public that allow fresh thinking to flourish and maintain public acceptance for the use of data for research purposes.

Read the Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) research fellowships specification (PDF, 164KB) for more information on these objectives.

Aims of the research

ESRC expects you to consider the potential scientific, societal and economic impacts of your research, with relevant outputs, a dissemination plan and clear communication of the impact of the research as key parts of the criteria for most peer review and assessment processes.

It is therefore important to set out how you intend to identify and actively engage relevant users of the research, as well as other stakeholders.

Stakeholders may come from within and beyond the academic community, including:

  • the public sector
  • the private sector
  • civil society
  • the general public.

You should also include evidence of any existing engagement with relevant end users. You should articulate a clear understanding of the needs of the end users of your proposed research, and consider ways to meet or impact those needs.

Opportunities for making an impact may arise, and should be taken, at any stage during the research life cycle. This includes:

  • the planning and research design stage
  • the period of funding
  • all activities that relate to the project, up to and including the time when funding has ended.

The research life cycle involves:

  • knowledge exchange and impact realisation activities, including reporting and publication
  • the archiving, future use, sharing and linking of data.

You must have in place a robust strategy to maximise the likelihood of impact opportunities and your own capacity to take advantage of them.

To be effective, all communication, engagement and impact activities must be planned in detail and properly resourced in the proposal. Throughout the relevant sections of the research proposal, applicants should therefore actively consider how these impacts can be maximised and developed.

Further information about how impact should be considered in the proposal can be found in the Je-S guidance document (PDF, 281KB).

Research topics

We have summarised research interests from the Ministry of Justice, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and key stakeholders below.

The Ministry of Justice research priorities are set out in the departmental areas of research interest (ARI) 2020. Other research questions are also welcomed providing you can evidence policy-relevance.

Strong applications will demonstrate links to the Ministry of Justice ARI and research priorities set out below. However, this is not an exhaustive list and you are encouraged to think creatively about opportunities across these three objectives, which will enhance the aims of your project and development.

We understand that new opportunities may arise during the research phase of your project and plans may need to change accordingly.

Successful fellows will meet with ADR UK to review their impact and development phase plans during month nine of their fellowship to discuss any required changes and adjustments. We will work flexibly throughout the fellowship to consider change requests and support emerging opportunities.

Research topics are outlined below.

Long-running proceedings (protracted proceedings) and their impact on children and families

The data will help us better understand the journey of protracted cases in the family justice system. Research would help improve our understanding of which kinds of proceedings these tend to be, and the characteristics of children and families that tend to be involved in such cases.

Also, research would help to uncover whether there have been any changes pre-pandemic and post-pandemic.

Repeat use of the family court

Overall research can help inform our understanding of repeat use of the family court and whether and how this may be reduced.

Key questions include:

  • who are our repeat users?
  • what are their demographic characteristics?
  • do the same parties return to the court in different contexts
  • how many and what proportion are ‘legitimate’ returns to court and what proportion are protracted cases?

How public and private law cases overlap

The data will help us better understand this overlap, about which we have limited knowledge.

Key questions include:

  • what proportion of private cases have had previous public law proceedings and vice versa?
  • what are the characteristics of these users?
  • what are their pathways through the court and the outcomes for these groups?

The characteristics of cases involving litigants in person (those in court without legal representation)

The data will help us better understand the nature of these cases and how they differ from cases where there is legal representation. Key questions include:

  • how many cases involve litigants in person?
  • do their length of proceedings differ from those represented?
  • what is the rate of return?
  • what are their characteristics?

Regional variation

The data will help us understand the extent to which there is regional variation (by local authority or court area) in the way family courts are dealing with cases. Key areas to explore include:

  • public and private law applications and orders made
  • the way cases progress through proceedings
  • the numbers and type of repeat cases
  • the difference between applications sought and orders made and in whether the journey length or characteristics of a case differ by type of presiding judge (magistrate, district judge, circuit judge)
  • are certain areas in England and Wales more likely to have repeat users than others?

Use of mediation

The data will help us understand the extent to which mediation is being used and in what circumstances.

Key questions include:

  • what types of cases attempt mediation within the family jurisdiction?
  • is there a link between cases that have not had mediation having repeat users and the case returning to court?

Impact and development phase (up to three months)

For the impact and development phase, you can include activities that cover the below.

Impact enhancement

This includes:

  • tailoring communication to a non-academic audience through the production of short documents or media products
  • organising an event that involves a wide range of stakeholders including policymakers and practitioners and that maintain public trust
  • coordinating activities to establish networks and relationships with research users
  • developing activities to influence policy.
Research synthesis, cohort leadership and engagement

This includes:

  • time to co-operate with other fellows on co-authored journal articles and other research outputs (this funding cannot be used for article processing charges)
  • liaising with other fellows to organise a research event focused on an area of shared interest aimed at building community and enhancing bodies of knowledge
  • activities that pass on your expertise and help build a wider cohort of researchers who are better able to carry out research using the data from your fellowship.
Training and development opportunities

This includes:

  • training offered by you to the wider research community in support of enhancing capability to conduct administrative data research
  • training for yourself to allow you to capitalise on opportunities or enhancing your capability as an administrative data research leader. We expect training in the phase of the project to focus on skills related to impact and knowledge exchange or skills relevant to leading and delivering future research projects.

What we will fund

Applications can be for either part-time or full-time research fellows, but the recommended minimum is 60% full time equivalent.

Proposals may also include:

  • salaries, plus nominated research support staff or mentorship time (mentorship is a requirement for applications from early career researchers)
  • travel and subsistence
  • project-specific engagement or events
  • public engagement
  • production of outputs
  • training: applicants should include a £2,000 ring-fenced training budget in their applications. This does not need to be broken down until the start of your project and counts towards the total full economic cost limit of the fellowship application.

Accreditation and approval

You will need to become an accredited researcher of the ONS Secure Research Service platform. If you are not already an accredited researcher then they can apply for accreditation through the Research Accreditation Service.

Read the safe researcher training list.

If you are already an accredited researcher, then you can access your data through the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage homepage.

Successful applicants will also need to have their project approved under the data owners’ information governance review process.


Funding will last up to 15 months. This includes a research phase up to 12 months at 1.0 full time equivalent, followed by an impact and development phase up to three months at 0.5 full time equivalent.

Research phase (up to 12 months)

This should cover typical research project stages including project set up, analysis and delivery of the research aims of your project. Some impact and development (training) activities might be appropriate during this phase but you will have dedicated time at the end of your project for this too.

Key outputs during this phase will include:

  • a project page
  • a blog
  • data insights and data explained published reports.

Impact and development phase (up to three months)

This phase should be dedicated toward building on the momentum from your research phase and maximising opportunities for knowledge exchange, impact and development opportunities.

Activities during this phase should enhance the research goals and policy impact of your work. Wider activities may also contribute to your own development, and support the wider research community using administrative data.

How to apply

You must submit both a Je-S application form and a Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank scoping form for this opportunity.

Applying through Je-S

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in the:

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

We recommend you start your application early.

When applying, select ‘new document’, then:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: fellowship
  • scheme: research fellowship
  • call/type/mode: ADR UK research fellowship: family justice 2022.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

SAIL Databank

You must also submit a SAIL Databank scoping form.

Submitting your form

You must complete stage one of the two-stage process by clicking on the ‘Discuss your research question with us today’ box.

This will take you to the scoping form where you can submit information about your proposed research.

A SAIL Databank analyst will then be in touch to discuss your project.


We must receive both your Je-S application form and the SAIL Databank scoping form by 20 October 2022 at 16:00.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

The information in these forms will be used to make a decision by the Administrative Data Research UK funding panel and SAIL Databank’s information governance review panel.

How we will assess your application

Following basic office eligibility checks, research applications will be assessed by a funding panel of independent expert reviewers, with at least two individual members reviewing and scoring each proposal.

Final funding recommendations will be made at a panel meeting of all reviewers in December 2022, though these will be subject to full data owner approval.

The funding panel outcomes are expected to be communicated within two weeks of the meeting. The application will then go through a formal governance review process.

Funding approval and offer letters are expected to be issued in January 2023 with a latest start date of 17 May 2023.

Assessment criteria include:

  • likelihood of demonstrating the potential of administrative data research for public policy impact
  • scientific merit
  • feasibility to deliver in the time frame and address the research questions with the data available
  • knowledge and experience
  • value for money
  • data owner approval.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) supports the San Francisco declaration on research assessment and recognises the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Read UKRI’s principles of assessment and decision making.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

General queries


Accredited researcher queries

Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank contact page


Methodology, data linkage, research question, data and metadata queries (including feasibility)

SAIL Databank contact page

Data First family court


Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info


An applicant webinar will be held on 18 July 2022, with presentations from the data owners and Administrative Data Research UK.

This will give you further information about the opportunity and the chance to ask any questions they may have in person.

Register to attend the webinar.

Supporting documents

ESRC research funding guide
Je-S guidance (PDF, 281KB)
ADR UK fellowship specification (PDF, 164KB)
Office for National Statistics accredited researcher training
Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) scoping form
The applicant journey (110KB)
How to write a good application
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service data catalogue
SAIL data catalogue
Data First data catalogue

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